On a mysterious tattoo

Hey, I commissioned some art from a friend for a project that ended up going nowhere, and then fell out of touch with this friend. I’ve got all the rights to it, paid in full, but recently I’ve been thinking about getting it as a tattoo. It’s a really elaborate piece of art with a lot of deep personal blah blah blah, my real question is, should I tell the artist? I have no idea how they’d react, and I’d rather not push them further away, but at the same time they poured a fraction of their life into this.

And, on a related note, what’s the courtesy for folks who get tattoos of art they find online? Obviously the artist deserves some kind of support in return. Everyone should know that. What’s a fair rate?


It feels like you’re only asking me a fraction of your real question. “Should I tell the artist?” Dude. What the fuck is really going on? You’ve made it clear that you don’t owe the artist anything, but this inner conflict about giving notice feels very “tip of the iceberg.”

I think maybe you’re really asking this in the hope that I’ll order you to tell the artist, as if you somehow need me to give you a technical reason, a little push that obligates you to finally get back in contact with this person.

And your related note is not at all related. It’s a diversion. You want me to give you a dollar amount that you can compare to whatever number you have in your head. You want to offer your artist friend some money, but you don’t want it to be an insult or seem like charity, so you need me to establish a “fair rate” that justifies your desire to give.

Hmm. You cared very deeply for this person, and this piece of art is the last connection you have to them. So it’s either tattoo it onto your body and have them there forever, or risk reaching out to them, ruining everything all over again, and then poisoning the tattoo’s potential.


Here’s my two cents: The relationship is more important than its symbol. The connection you have to the artist is more important than the connection you have to the art.

Do with that what you will.


19 thoughts on “On a mysterious tattoo

  1. Strangely Rational says:

    I assumed that he “related note” had to do with a backup plan in case the letter writer tells the artist friend about the tattoo and they react badly, or decides not to do it for some other reason. Maybe there’s another piece of art under consideration, but not one they’d already paid for?

    If that’s the case, you don’t set the rate. Whoever has copyright on the artwork does. You would need to contact them to ask permission (if you do not, you are infringing). Some might not charge you, whereas others would.

  2. rollertrain says:

    FWIW, tattoos are out of style. Finally. If I could go back and un-get mine, I would. To OP: If you’re in your 20’s, don’t bother. You’d’ve already gotten it if you really wanted it. Save your skin and your commissioned piece of art.

    • Anna says:

      Oh please, it isn’t because you didn’t take the time to think of the consequences of having a tattoo than no one can. I mean getting a tattoo because tattoos were “in style” is a ridiculous notion. Also look into laser removal.
      Personally I’m in my 20s, I’ve been thinking about my first tattoo for 8 years, and am planning to get it in the next 5 years. My body modifications are not something I will ever regret, even in the hypothetical situation where they would be frowned upon or I wouldn’t particularly like the modifications anymore.

      • Brynn says:

        Indeed. I’m always a little bit hazy on how people get tattoos only to regret them. Like, you’re getting something permanent, so when choosing a tattoo you should choose something that is indelibly you. If you chose something because you thought it was cool, that’s obviously not gonna age well. Or maybe they were completely out of touch with who they were? I don’t really know.

        • Anna says:

          I think its fine to get a tattoo because you think its cool, a tattoo is just ink in you dermis, it doesn’t have to reflect any deep truth about yourself. And tattoos don’t age particularly well anyways : they fade and need retouching, the body becomes unshapely and skin saggy with age anyways, and opinions and tastes will change over time (thank goodness for that).
          But you have to commit to the idea that a tattoo is INK IN YOUR DERMIS. For god’s sake, it isn’t a commodity you can fancy, play around with and throw away.
          Also what’s the point in regretting it ? The body is a canvas anyways, and most of the scribblings on it one doesn’t choose. I’ve got a shit ton of scars, some of them from accidents, most of them from self mutilation. These scars are not something worth regretting, they are simply marks on the canvas of my body, and I know I will acquire many more by the time I die.

        • Chops says:

          All my tattoos are because I thought they were cool at the time, not because I spent a long time thinking them out.

          The only regret I have about them now that I’m older is that I didnt really properly plan them out very well. I’d like a bigger, more complex piece and I’ve got a few that are in the way of that.

          And some of them are of things I don’t really care about now. But I knew I wouldnt care about them forever going into it. I’ve always viewed tattoos as more of a story log of my life. This was important enough to me at one point. And then this was. And then this was. etc.

          The idea that just because something is forever on my skin means it has to have some super deep meaning or fully encompass who I am is silly. I’m a dude with tattoos. Some important, some decidedly not.

          • Brynn says:

            I didn’t mean to imply that something not aging with you means you’re gonna regret it. But see, you knew going into it that it’s not going to age well. With people who regret such a thing, do they not see that? Do they believe that it’s going to be cool to them for the rest of their lives? That’s the part I’m not clear on.

            I’m not suggesting that every tattoo should be deeply meaningful either. Just that it should be you. Your perspective on tattoos, that they are a log of your life, that carries over. You embrace that perspective, that’s the part that is indelibly you in your tattoos.

        • Implications says:

          I loved my first tattoo when I got it, but I probably wouldn’t get the same tattoo now because I grew up some more and my tastes changed. However, I still like the tattoo because it reminds me of who I was when I got it, and I think that’s nice. (Obviously it helps that it’s not, like, a tattoo of an asshole under my right eye) Tattoos don’t have to be permanently meaningful in order to avoid regret.

      • WilhelminaMildew says:

        Back in the late 90s, when I was 31 or 32, I remember some smart ass teenager asking me what I was going to do when tattoos ‘weren’t in style anymore’. I said “The same thing that I did when I started getting them BEFORE they were in style- keep getting more.”
        Around the same time some smart ass soccer dad asked me ‘what are you going to tell your grandchildren about those?’
        Me: “Kids, these are tattoos, and if you want any you have to wait until you’re 18 and it’s legal.”
        He was quiet a moment, then said “That’s not what I thought you were going to say.”
        WTF dood? Did you think I was going to lament and express a bunch of regrets?

        I wanted tattoos at 17 but waited until I was 17 to make sure it wasn’t a passing fancy. I’ll be 49 in just over a week, and my only tattoo regrets are 1. Not getting many, MANY more when I was younger with less responsibility and (therefore) more disposable income 2. Not getting much larger pieces since I didn’t know back then that my skin is the type that blurs fine lines and eats small details for breakfast (even though I am soft skinned & pale and NEVER tan)
        I remember being fascinated as a kid by our neighbor’s (an aging 50s greaser) crude naked lady and topless hula girl tatts that he had gotten as a young man in the military. I am even more so now that I know their history, and the variety of styles, artists, and even quality they encompass.
        And I will never, NEVER understand how people without tattoos, or with ones they regret, can act like they are so vastly superior to people that have them. It’s a picture drawn into your skin, not a moral compass. I remember a joke that went, What’s the difference between people who have tattoos and people who don’t? People with tattoos don’t care if you have them or not.

    • Lolaturshittytattoo says:

      What? Dude, you’re wrong. Tattoos aren’t about fashion. It’s an art form. One that’s been practiced for thousands of years. You either love it or you don’t. To each his own, and my condolences on your poor choices, but tattoos are here to stay.

    • Grouch says:

      “You’d’ve already gotten it if you really wanted it”

      “Nobody can ever consider anything. Nor can there be appreciable time between the possibility of doing something and the action, if the action is going to take place”.–little-changed-art.html

      Ask her if they’re a new trend.

      Also, that tattoo is going to be shit if you’re getting someone else’s artwork (planned for a different canvas, executed with a different medium) xeroxed onto by whatever cheap hack is in your town.

      But yeah, that seems like a smokescreen. Get back in touch with them, you’ll probably regret that less than a shitty tattoo.

    • Strangely Rational says:

      I got my first tattoo at age 36. I never thought I would get one, but then a few years prior started thinking I might change my mind. When I thought of an idea I absolutely adored and has many different layers of symbolism in my life, I waited a little longer and then got it.

      I’m not much older (42), but I love it as much as ever and I can’t see that changing. Probably the best decision I made in the process was to go with the tattoo artist’s interpretation of the design I wanted instead of sticking with the one I wanted to be reproduced. Lesson learned: see what a talented pro has to offer you.

      My guess is that a lot of tattoo regrets are from the ones that were poorly done due to not having enough money to pay for quality or not having learned yet that you get what you pay for. Or were impulsively done, which is why I don’t get the concept that taking a lot of time to consider it is a bad sign.

      If your desire to get a tattoo is in any way influenced by whether it’s in style, then yeah, that would increase the risk of regretting it later.

  3. Kath says:

    Q1; If you’re 100% sure you own the image rights then technically you could do what you want. If that was the contract then the artist should already have charged you for the time they put in and potential losses against you using/reproducing the work for something else.

    However, since you seem uncertain and unsure how the artist would react that’s a good indication that you already know this may not be the right thing to do. Something about your arrangement/relationship leads you to believe they may not be happy about this. Something’s not right and I think Coque’s advice in that department is worth considering carefully.

    So, I think you should not get the tat without talking to the artist, and if that’s going to be impossible or super weird, then just get a nice print of the art for your bedroom wall, or something.

    Q2; You will have to talk to your artists individually and find out what they would like to be compensated. If they give permission to tattoo their work but don’t ask for money, do something supportive like buy a print.

    • Strangely Rational says:

      With any luck, the letter writer will have saved the contract that he/she signed with the artist and can check it for specific permissions without having to ask the artist. (I’m assuming that there was a contract. If not, that complicates things.)

      Great suggestion about buying a print!

  4. Soooooooooooo..... says:

    So if u don’t even talk to the artist anymore why would you even think this could be an issue? Like they’d seriously see you on the street, get mad about the tattoo, and take you to court? That’s crazy. I just don’t even think that’s a likely scenario in your case.

    • Ellie says:

      I think something about the relationship between OP and the artist would make it deceptive to have the tattoo and not tell them, even if they don’t talk anymore.

  5. toni de faoite says:

    As an artist when someone asked how I would feel about them having a tattoo of my design, I felt honoured that someone liked it so much they wanted to wear it as a permanent part of themselves, and was delighted to give my consent to it at no charge.
    Also if there was any form of love/friendship previously, no matter where it went from there, that remains. Revisiting to remind that person you value their art is like being told your soul is valued and treasured is a confirmation that they meant something to you and their work is appreciated. Who would not want that?

    It is not necessary to like me as a person to value that which i put my heart and soul into 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *